Because Hill Country is made for drinking.
When a building erected in 1887 undergoes a $2 million overhaul in 2017, two possibilities exist, either the building takes on a new, gentrified life using its history as a marketing tool or it honors that history with as faithful a rebuild as possible. For a dive bar purist, these types of overhauls can be a little fear-inducing, but for Spechts, a general store turned bar in Texas hill country outside San Antonio, the money was reverently well spent.
And Spechts has a history worth telling (courtesy a comprehensive look at Spechts by MySanAntonio.com), its structure built with lumber hauled by wagon that has changed owners a handful of times over its history, each generation building upon the roots in place. The cash register is 1905 original, the original floors were preserved through the renovation and the music played on site can trace a lineage back to vaudeville productions staged in the 1890s.
With all that said, just pulling into the Spechts parking lot after the winding rural road to get there is enough to feel every ounce of that history. The building is iconic, a corrugated metal roof painted as the Texas state flag, the type of building so Texan that were it in a movie, you’d call it a little too on the nose. The general store heritage is obvious, accentuated by the classic gas station pumps that flank the building. Envisioning a family rolling up on their wagon in 1903 to buy a pound of sugar is not difficult.
Inside, the theme continues, with original antiques in seemingly every corner of the space. And because of the legit history of the building, those antiques don’t feel like kitschy knock offs purchased to make the space feel authentic, rather the space itself is authentic and that makes the vibe feel organic, not staged. Permanent wooden booths provide the perfect seating option for the food served here, though it’s perhaps unlikely that the building’s founding family envisioned spinach salad being sold on site.
Past an amazing wooden post office mailbox array, the path leads to the back patio, where an impressive stretch of concrete flooring and wooden picnic tables leads to an equally impressive stage at the rear of the outside space. The layout sprawls under, around, next to, behind the roof connected to the patio, with seating, signage, games, kids and acres of land stretching well past the boundaries of the concrete itself.
And it’s outside where the weekend evening magic happens, a hive of activity with a band up front and the tables packed. A pro tip from this reviewer would definitely be to look into the beer by the bucket pricing, the kind of per-beer deal that can lead to some good and maybe not as good decision making. The property also houses an additional structure housing a cotton gin, otherwise known as exactly what you’d expect to find on property this steeped in history. The building today doubles as special event space.
From the second the blazing Spechts sign comes into view, just a few turns past a legitimate Texas rodeo facility, the heritage and richness of Spechts’ history can be felt. From the movie-grade Texas general store vibe to the feeling of an on-the-farm night out back with live music and cold beer, Spechts delivers exactly the experience it intends to. And that’s the real victory here, where $2 million worth of renovation went into accentuating what exists, rather than appropriating what used to be.